Opportunities from the COVID-19 Crisis

Library of Congress image of Chicago after the great fire of 1871.
Image: The Chicago Fire, 1871 – Library of Congress

In every crisis, there is opportunity. In fact, by definition, a crisis is risk and opportunity conjoined. Without one or the other, there is no crisis.

True to form, there are myriad opportunities in the COVID crisis currently facing the world. Here in Canada – there are a number of major national opportunities we should seize as a result of the COVID pandemic – and the devastating economic intervention that has taken place to beat the bug.

There is no underestimating the amount of damage that has been – and continues to be done – by the shelter-in-place “social distancing” strategy adopted by Canada’s government. I’m not arguing this strategy isn’t necessary. I’m just stating the obvious: the cure is awful and will cause massive damage that will linger long after the virus is beaten.

Our economy and our social infrastructure will need wholesale reconstruction when this is over. It’s in that rebuilding I believe we can find unprecedented opportunity. If we look for it.

IN 1871 FIRE DESTROYED much of downtown Chicago – providing an opportunity for that city to rebuild in a more measured, considered way. Downtown Chicago is now lauded across North America for its architectural majesty – something made possible only after fire created a nearly blank canvas upon which to re-conceive the city.

So too, COVID-19 could allow Canada to re-imagine some of our previously entrenched assumptions and social infrastructure.

Here’s six things we could re-engineer:

Public Education – Our education system did a passably good job of teaching our kids how to show up, line up, and shut up – essential skills for a job in any Victorian era factory. But, not really the skills they need to flourish in the 21st Century where knowledge expands at a blinding rate. With our entire educational system effectively shut down, we should use this opportunity to re-engineer it from the ground up.

Public Health – Canada’s public health system is a cluttered hodgepodge of nonsensical municipal, provincial and federal agencies led largely by social justice ideologues and dusty physicians who don’t have the balls to be politicians. It is almost perfectly ill-suited to the task of preventing epidemics and protecting Canadians from public health emergencies. It’s well-past time for a complete overhaul.

Basic Income – Even more ill-suited to its task than Canada’s public health system is the complex array of social safety nets that do a great job of employing hundreds of thousands of civil servants – but a dismal job of actually providing Canadians with the help they need when they need it. The federal government’s rapid development and implementation of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) opens the door to a major restructuring of our social safety nets. Yes, my friend, it’s time for a Universal Basic Income.

Medicine and Pharmacare – Faced with the greatest public health emergency in living memory, Canadians are feeling the pain as our national pride – universal public healthcare – cracks under the pressure. Even the most Amish of physicians is being dragged into the technology age with remote consultation and diagnosis. Too bad, the system can’t pay them for doing what we need them to do. Our pre-COVID health system was on life support and is unlikely to be saved by any number of locally-manufactured victory ventilators. Time to strip this icon to its bones and rebuild it for the 21st Century.

The Public–Private Gap – I’ve written before about the growing and dangerous gap that’s developed between the Canada experienced by the ever-growing cohort of public sector workers and that lived by the private sector workers who pay for them. Canada will not survive another decade of this asymmetry. Coming out of this crisis, we must fix this fundamental inequity.

National Strategy – Finally, but most importantly, it’s time for Canada to develop a national strategy. As far as I can tell, we’ve never had one. That’s why we’re running out of critical supplies in the midst of a crisis. Why we educate far more teachers each year than there are available teaching jobs. Why we don’t have enough skilled tradespeople to build all the houses we need. Why, we’ve even had to import strippers! Post COVID-19, we must demand our governments articulate a strategic vision that will guide the myriad difficult decisions Canadians and governments make every day.

OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS I will expand on each of these themes – and add more. Suffice to say, there’s a lot of opportunity for Canada to better itself in this crisis. Let’s hope we seize some of it.

When will life will return to normal?With much of the population working from home, social distancing, self-isolating or locked down in quarantine – How soon do you think your life will return to something you'd call "normal?"